PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Duquesne’s final home basketball game of the season might have been a glimpse into the near future.
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Freshmen Tydus Verhoeven and Eric Williams Jr. combined to score 41 points, helping the Dukes snap a six-game losing streak with an impressive 76-69 victory over Saint Louis.
Duquesne matched an AJ Palumbo Center record with 13 home wins this season, and it’s the most home victories since the 1980-81 season. The win improved the Dukes to 16-14 overall and 7-10 in the A-10.
The freshman duo stole the show from the opening tip, combining to score Duquesne’s first 16 points. They wouldn’t let up, either, making play after play down the stretch in the second half.
Verhoeven, who has battled inconsistency all season, finished a perfect 7-7 from the field and poured in a season- and game-high 21 points. His previous best was 12 against Robert Morris three games into the season.
The 6-foot-9 forward credited the big performance to a discussion with his mother, Jodi, who flew out from California earlier this week to spend time with her son.
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“My mother came out to Pittsburgh, and we had a heart-to-heart talk and it really helped,” Verhoeven said. “Sadly, she had to go back to California, but I’m probably going to get a happy text here really quick.”
“She was just, ‘You need to go back to playing basketball the way you can do it and just relaxing and flowing into the game.’ Not thinking so much. That’s my biggest issue.”
Williams Jr. scored 14 first half points, and his long three-pointer with 2:37 remaining put the Dukes back in front to stay after they had coughed up a 10-point second half lead.
“They were sitting on Rene [Castro-Cannedy] because he’s a good driver, so I was just ready to catch and shoot,” Williams Jr. said of the shot. “I got it, and it went in. It was a clutch shot for us.”
The New Haven, Mich., native finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, matching a Duquesne freshman record with his 11th double-double of the season. His second three-pointer of the night was his 64th of the season, eclipsing teammate Mike Lewis II’s freshman record of 63 set a year ago. Williams Jr. hit two more to give him 66.
While it was only one night, it surely excites a fan base that dreams of once again returning to national prominence. Verhoeven and Williams Jr. figure to be key fixtures for the next three years. It’s only a matter of each one realizing his potential. Williams Jr. is there while Verhoeven has struggled to see it at times.
“His [Verhoeven] whole problem is he doesn’t know how good he is,” head coach Keith Dambrot said. “The other guy thinks he’s great—Eric Williams—and Tydus doesn’t know he’s good.”
“That’s pretty much the whole deal with them. Thinking your great is a good thing. You have to think you’re great because if you don’t, you’re never going to be great.”
The game was a stark contrast from the first meeting back on Jan. 17. Saint Louis took it to Duquesne in that first matchup, overpowering the Dukes with its size and physicality.
Duquesne returned the favor Wednesday night.
With Verhoeven and Williams Jr. leading the way, the Dukes built a 12-point first half lead, but then the offense went quiet over the final four-plus minutes of the period. Saint Louis closed out the frame on a 13-4 run to trail by three at the break, 32-29.
After failing to make a shot in the opening stanza, Duquesne sophomore Mike Lewis II started the second half hitting three consecutive triples. The last of which stretched the Duquesne margin to nine, and the Saint Louis deficit reached double-digits on Verhoeven’s lay-in moments later.
Then the Billikens suddenly caught fire from deep, sparked by sophomore Jalen Johnson, who canned a pair of long-distance shots to move the visitors within four. Senior Aaron Hines’ long three at the 6:56 mark gave Saint Louis its first lead since 5-4 at 57-55.
But then the Duquesne defense clamped down, not allowing another field goal for five-plus minutes. Saint Louis had opportunities to extend its lead at the line but missed three of its next six chances. Verhoeven’s two free throws drew Duquesne within one at 60-59 with 3:57 left, and a few possessions later, with the shot clock winding down, Williams Jr. delivered the decisive blow.
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“I think we had a different approach that if we knew they took the lead at the end, just be more composed,” Williams Jr. said of the team’s ability to rally after giving up the lead.
Verhoeven closed out the game going a perfect 4-4 from the line, and Kellon Taylor’s steal and basket with 48 seconds remaining put the team’s losing skid on ice.
Duquesne won despite Saint Louis matching a season-high with 11 three-pointers, and the Billikens failed to outrebound an opponent for just the third time in the last 15 games.
Duquesne shot a season-best 57 percent and forced 20 turnovers. The Dukes were 17-24 from the stripe.
Lewis II was the only other Duke in double-figures, scoring 10 points. Junior Tarin Smith added seven points, five assists, and three steals, including a key theft late in the game with Duquesne leading by four.
Duquesne wraps up the regular season Saturday at UMass.